Every city in Britain has a claim to fame, a raison d’etre. Even Hull can claim the trophy for the Suicide Capital of Yorkshire, although I’m not sure how that would go down on a tourism billboard. Manchester has Factory Records. Newcastle, regrettably, has Sting. But what about Bristol?
A Cosmic Force
Farmers aside, the city has proved a cosmic force in the shaping of musical genres throughout modern history, Bristol is compact, but packs a punch in the youth culture stakes of Britain. Forget about London, this is where hip-hop became trip-hop and drum and bass cut its fangs. Not to mention the fact that achingly wicked graff artist Banksy started his career here, prowling the streets of Bristol and raiding an artistic canvas from the city walls. So what is it about the clay of the city that moulds such progressive talent?
The metropolis has traditionally been multi-cultural and diverse. Black and Asian immigrant communities have flourished in Bristol and the influence of reggae, dub and ska has skeins in the very soil of the earth. Racial tensions have ebbed and flowed throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, and the socio-economic culture of the city has absorbed this. Political riots and urban dissent have been part of Bristol for a long time, and progressive music or art are often products of such an environment. Combine this with diverse cultures placed side by side, exchanging thoughts and ideas; and the foundations for a powerful undercurrent of urban youth culture are laid.
An evolving music scene began to meld elements of the city’s people with trends and sounds like hip-hop and dance from across the pond in America, and create new formulas. Raw talent like Massive Attack and Portishead were among those responsible for pioneering the Bristol Sound, a melancholic and introspective melding of hip-hop, dance and psychedelic influences. In the late eighties and early nineties the Bristol scene exploded and musical genres proliferated. Underground cultures like garage, drum and bass and grime emerged like phoenixes from the ashes in Bristol, and to this day the city remains a front runner in underground bass-driven music culture.
So next time you’re in the South West and in search of a good night out, head to The Croft, or one of Bristol’s many wonderful little gems. Sweat drips from the ceiling, the beer comes cheap and the decks will be spinning something dark and dirty from the heartland of British grime and bass culture, I guarantee you. Enjoy.
This article was written by Emma Hill. You can often spot her in Bristol’s bars & clubs wearing a Banksy t shirt.